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UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful

Thursday 27th June 2019 | Jake

The UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been ruled as unlawful, as the scale of the crisis in Yemen intensifies. Saudi Arabia have been using British weapons to wage war in Yemen, leading a coalition that has committed numerous human rights violations and atrocities. The UK’s sales were deemed unlawful by the court of appeal, who judged that the government had illegally signed off on weapon exports without properly assessing risk to citizens.

The court has ordered international trade secretary Liam Fox to conduct a review of a minimum £4.7bn worth of arms sales sanctioned by the UK to Saudi Arabia. The verdict is the result of a case brought against Fox by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). Speaking to MPs, Fox insisted the verdict didn’t mean arms exports to the Gulf state were unethical. In his statement Fox confirmed the government “will not grant any new licences for export to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.”

Liam Fox

The war in Yemen has raged for over four years now, and its death toll is fast approaching 100,000. The UN says Saudi Arabia’s coalition has “targeted civilians … in a widespread and systematic manner”, and now a report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled) has detailed the intentional targeting of civilians by both sides in the conflict. The Acled report recorded about 11,700 civilian deaths resulting from direct targeting of civilians. Of those 11,700 deaths, Acled says the Saudi led coalition, which includes the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, were responsible for 67%.

Some European countries have halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of their role in the Yemen conflict. Following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last autumn, Germany suspended sales to the Gulf state.

The Yemen conflict erupted as a civil war between government forces and Houthi rebel forces. Saudi Arabia opposes the Houthi rebels, and have thrown their support behind the Sunni Muslim government. The Houthi’s are generally perceived as a Shia Muslim force and Saudi Arabia fears Iran, the greatest Shia power in the Middle East, is backing the rebels, despite both the rebels and Iran denying any partnership.

The war may be muddled, with no clear pathway to peace in sight, but the court of appeal’s decision and Acled’s report provide some clarity. The British government has been unlawfully arming a coalition that deliberately targets and kills innocent civilians.

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